Interview with Matt McAndrew of Slaves

Matt McAndrew sat down with us to chat about his first record with the band Slaves, life during quarantine, and his emotion-filled songwriting.

Matt McAndrew is widely known for his appearance on season seven of The Voice. After initially working on solo material, Matt joined post-hardcore band Slaves last year. Their upcoming release and last under this band name, To Better Days, will be the first with Matt on vocals. Matt chatted with us about the differences between songwriting for his solo work and working with a band, what he’s been up to during quarantine, and who his musical influences are.  

LH: How has quarantine been treating you over these last few months?
Matt: It’s been interesting… it’s been unprecedented obviously, I think for everybody, but it’s been a lot of staying inside. I haven’t really hung out with anybody or done anything socially so I’ve been playing a lot of video games, watching some new tv shows, teaching online students. I was doing that before. And also playing some music.

LH: What kind of shows have you been watching? 
Matt: I just started watching the show Dark on Netflix, it’s a German show. It’s so good, I’m almost done season two right now so I’m getting caught up. 

LH: I just finished that one, too
Matt: Nice, Obviously don’t spoil it for me but hopefully I’ll be caught up the next day or so.

LH: You’ve been teaching music also?
Matt: Yeah, for the past couple of years or so I’ve been doing Skype lessons online. I do singing, songwriting, guitar, and a little bit of piano. It’s been something fun for me to do when I’m home and not touring. Clearly, there hasn’t been any touring going on so that’s been taking up a good portion of my time, so that’s fun.

LH: Have you had a chance to hang out with bandmates over the quarantine?
Matt: No. Zack is the only other bandmate that’s out here with me in LA. Two are in Florida and the other is in Salt Lake. So we are all spread out anyway. Zack and I were gym buddies for a long time there, but then they closed down the gyms. I guess they’re open again but I don’t feel like going personally. Just watching as my body becomes soft and weak. It’s a whole different thing to work out at home, too. I would get discouraged in the beginning when I would take a walk around the neighborhood with my mask on and then someone comes running by huffing and puffing just no mask running past me and it’s like, “Cool” and I know in LA the cases are really spiking right now, so I’m trying to avoid getting it. 

LH: What are you writing lately?
Matt: I’ve been playing around with some new ideas in terms of, you know, I’m still kind of searching for inspiration for the new record. Going into the studio last time there was some… this might sound silly but even a show like Dark could inspire at least like some kind of idea. Other than that, certain books I’m trying to read or poetry or other bands and music keep me in some sort of like cocoon incubation state right now before we have to get back in the studio. Just sort of collecting inspiration so I have something to say. 

LH: Has writing been different with the new band?
Matt: Yeah, for sure. With all my solo music it’s primarily started with any kind of vocal idea, then I pick up an acoustic guitar and work that way. Whereas with the band, it’s been writing on top of an instrumental that the guys have created. That makes it very different like I’m writing a top line to this music that already has a vibe. We can tweak it a little bit but it already has its set parts like these are the different parts, these are how long they are… I’m just writing on top of that, which is cool. I would say it’s kind of refreshing because before it’s like writing in your own head and picking up an acoustic guitar, you kind of start tracing the same lines at some point. I started writing my solo stuff when I was 19 and I’m 29 now, so you kinda just get stuck in a rut. It’s still guitar-oriented but it’s a different genre I’ve got to work with. So, it was very refreshing and it made me feel like I had a lot to say, which was nice because I got to a place where I was sort of hitting a wall with my solo stuff. It’s great to bounce ideas off of other people. I’ve done some co-writing as well with the solo stuff and that’s another development where I definitely started very adamantly writing by myself and growing into doing the majority of any writing I do as a co-write whether it’s for one band or another or even my solo stuff. It’s just more fun working with other people, for me socially. I would like to get back to a place where maybe my solo stuff was more independently created just because everything else I’m doing is more collaborative in nature now, that itself might be refreshing as well. It definitely feels more like hard work to write a song by yourself most of the time. There’s like sort of a social aspect to it. Music has always been inherently more collaborative than other art forms as opposed to painting, but since you’re in a band, playing together, it just makes sense. I would like to go back to a stripped-down singer-songwriter kind of thing, just for fun. That’s really the only thing I’m not doing anymore, so it would be cool to get back into that. I just need to find a new way in. 

LH: I’ve heard and read the lyrics for the new album. I’ve also heard you have deep messages in the new album, like mental health, tell me about that.
Matt: Speaking on the lyrics, it always starts for me from a very true and genuine place. Like checking off a box that says, “Yes this is what I wanted to say personally.” But, the second part is understanding that fortunately, we do have a fanbase and people to listen and react to the songs and that’s where you become aware of the themes. You know people are gonna read them and interpret them. I think the whole topic of mental health is something we are all aware of and an important subject to discuss. It makes sense with the album we made. Essentially, the whole record is about relationships, so it could be with a significant other or a friend. Some of those relationships on certain songs are really more about a relationship with yourself so I think that’s where the mental health topic really comes into play. 

LH: What is your proudest song on that album, lyrically, or by meaning?
Matt: Probably “Talk To A Friend.” It depends on the mood of a song or the setting, I’ve definitely written songs before that were kind of sad songs but the environment or writing the song is with friends and you’re collaborating so maybe you’re able to joke about things but still be able to do something serious and talk about something serious. For this process, it was more me going off and being really isolated. The band was in the studio writing and tracking all the instrumentals and then I would go away and play catch up with myself and I’d spend a day by a lake or walking around a park trying to write these lyrics. I felt very isolated through most of it. It wasn’t very fun so I got back with the band and tried to get ideas going as they were working on the songs. It’s fun to be in that creative environment when things are still sparking off of each other. But to play catch up it’s like, okay the band has ten instrumentals now and like I only have three songs fully written. So I’m just trying to play catch up like I needed to remove myself and work on it. So yeah, I would say “Talk To A Friend wasn’t super fun to write from that standpoint, and also I was really trying to put myself in that headspace that I’ve been in, in terms of being able to really express that feeling or that sentiment. Which is sort of not a fun place to be in but it was also a kind of gratifying song and enjoyable from that standpoint to finish it and to stand back and think that what I had done was successful. There’s another element where that song was a concept that I wanted to write for a couple of years or so before doing the record. I think it was overall satisfying and I was proud of the way it all came together. 

LH: Is Slaves the type of music you always envisioned yourself creating?
Matt: Since 2013 or so I got into Bring Me The Horizon and Sempiternal and all that stuff and I remember thinking, “Man, it would be really cool to do something like that musically.” But I didn’t ever think I’d have an avenue to do any kind of heavier rock music so it’s been a really cool surprise. And actually, the way I met up with the guys in Slaves was through my buddy Kevin Thrasher whos a member of Escape The Fate. So, he and I have been working on our project The Take Away for the past two years or so, and when I first met him I figured, “Oh maybe we’re gonna do something more like Bring Me-esque or a little heavier.” And it actually turned out to be much more alternative, some of it’s straight-ahead pop which is funny, but it did lead me to this post-hardcore world. It’s been really cool, it’s been something that I didn’t think I was gonna get to do and before this, being a solo artist was hard to fit into everything that I like to do and everything that I can do artistically into one project.

The lines are being blurred. If you listen to the new The 1975 record they’re kind of all over the place in a cool way. For me, I was just always being like well, make sure you sing a song well live where you get to put the guitar down and show you got a little grit to your voice, whereas now I feel like my solo music can really just be that classic singer-songwriter, lyrically driven, acoustic guitar, just me, live. Everything else can just fall into its place as well. I think it’s given me a lot of perspective on everything, actually, I’m more at ease having more projects going on than less. It’s easier than trying to fit everything under one umbrella.

LH: What are some differences you see with the Slaves scene compared to your solo career’s scene?
Matt: My solo music was always way more predominantly female, anywhere from your mom to young girls at shows and listening. It’s funny, you can see those demographics on Spotify now and all these analytics. Slaves isn’t super in the other direction but there are definitely more guys, certainly way more guys than I’m used to having at a show. So, to put it in perspective, if I do a solo show and there’s like 200 people there, I would anticipate there being about 20 to 30 guys. So, from that to seeing like half the people there are dudes or more than half, it’s like woah! It’s just a new audience and it’s cool to see people like moshing and be all wound up at the show, it’s so different. I like having more male fans, it’s fun… I like having any kind of fan really, but it been different.

A lot of our music is coming from a place of a lot of vulnerability, openness, and honestness, especially, like you said, talking about personal issues or mental health. That gives us a chance to talk. Certainly young men at shows, that’s a positive thing. Traditionally, women are seen as being more encouraged to feel and be openly emotive, as men are told to ‘man up’ and not be Emotional. I think that’s a great thing to come out of having more of a male audience. I’m pretty hellbent on being pretty vulnerable and emotive. That’s the whole reason I’m an artist. It’s because I’m a sensitive guy.

LH: I definitely feel like you’d be making an amazing safe place for younger guys with repressed emotions and for getting to know how they feel.
Matt: I hope so, I think that’s great.

LH: Any hard-core influences in your life?
Matt: Of course. Bring Me The Horizon, Sleeping With Sirens, Issues, ADTR, Glassjaw. Those are the only heavier bands I knew about and listened to before joining Slaves. Obviously, I like Awaken I Am, we’ve worked with those guys. Big fan of the new Dayseeker stuff. Sometimes I listen to Architects now.

But I’m still a big fan of Bring Me The Horizon. I’m always keeping up with their stuff. I think they’re a fun case where you see them set these precedents for everyone else to play catch up with. I would say it’s very similar to a band like The 1975 where there are post-hardcore bands now that sound like they are making Sempiternal the same way there are indie rock bands that feel like they are making the first The 1975 record now and it’s like seven years later. It’s fun to hear their new music because you’re thinking, “Is this what we’re all doing now? Is this where it’s heading?” It means more. I don’t know if they think about it that way or not, but it’s very trendsetting. Not just because it’s hip but because they have a record for setting trends.

LH: When things start to get back to normal, what are your plans for the future?
Matt: I’m sure we will be touring as soon as we can be. It will be interesting to see if it will be any different than it used to, in terms of maybe we do shows but not do meet and greets or no hanging out at the merch table. It will be interesting to see if there will be a half-way return to normalcy. What if we play outside shows at drive-in shows, I think that would kinda cool actually. I kinda might like that honestly. Because from a performer’s standpoint it would just look like I’m performing to a bunch of cars which would be really funny. Or even just kind of a festival environment or outdoor concert, with everyone in their own circle still wearing masks. It seems to make sense but I wouldn’t mind having a concert for cars.

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